Be Steady in the Face of Criticisms

Let’s talk about that dreaded “c” word: criticism. Living in a speak-up culture and feedback-rich world, you must prepare yourself for all types of criticism, constructive or otherwise. As you grow to become leaders in different domains in life, you must develop the muscle to hear critical feedback and learn how to deliver well-meaning criticism that encourages acceptance and positive outcomes.

Who Are The Critics?

First of all, before you let your emotions get the better of you, consider the significance of your critic and if they are in the position to offer you criticism. If you do not believe that they are, such as those toxic bullies who make baseless criticism to dent your self-esteem, remain calm, acknowledge that you have heard them, and walk away. You should even set boundaries if you feel they are out of line. 

Don’t Take It Personally

Some people are more critical than others. That’s just how they are. Often, their criticism is not an intentional personal attack. Instead, they are a reflection of what bothers them and their specific frameworks in life. Observe how they treat other people, and if they display the same negativity, you know they are not out to get you, and it is just how they express themselves. They may not be the nicest people to be around, but it will still serve you well by hearing them out.

Listen Objectively 

The key to turning criticism into something useful is to listen for the underlying message. Look past how it is communicated and focus on what is communicated. Behind all that tactlessness, critics could mean well. There may be some truth in what they say, and you may gain insights that could help you improve. By listening honestly without getting defensive or emotional, you become more perceptive as a person, and you get to focus your energies only on things that are well worth your effort.

“Let Me See If I Got What You Said.”

Our imagination tends to run wild, especially when we are upset, coming up with stories we tell ourselves about what someone else is saying about us. Check with your critic if you understood them correctly, paraphrasing your understanding in your own words. When in doubt, ask. And keep doing it till you get it right. It shows that you are willing to listen to their point of view, and you may even make them feel a tad guilty for being so curt and critical with you in the first place.  

Take What You Can Learn & Move On

Once you determine the real story, decide for yourself what is worth paying attention to and act on them. If there is a problem, address it; if there is a misunderstanding, correct it; if you disagree, say so and seek a compromise; if you discover that you are at fault, admit it and apologise. If you feel there is more you can learn from the person, ask for suggestions on how you can improve.

You don’t have to agree with everything that they say. Take what you can learn and move on. If anything, you would walk away from the conversation earning your critic’s respect and facilitating future opportunities for similar authentic, open discussions with them.

The Dos & Don’ts of Criticism Response

Pay attention to your body language when responding to in-person criticism. Avoid crossing your arms, scowling, or rolling your eyes. Maintain eye contact and look engaged. If you need time to process or calm yourself down, tell the other party that you will come back to them once you have formulated your thoughts. Do not lose your cool and respond with angry excuses. Finally, consider thanking the person for their input, especially when it has been given honestly, thoughtfully, and professionally.  

Don’t Do Unto Others What You Don’t Want Done Unto You (Confucius)

You’d know when it is your turn to give negative feedback that not all criticism comes with bad intentions. What if you really want to help but are not the most polished with words? The solution: criticise constructively.

Constructive criticism meets the following criteria:

  1. It points to something specific about another person’s actions.
  2. It provides details, supporting facts, and context. 
  3. It comes with suggestions or guidance on how the other person can improve. 
  4. It shows care for the recipient and considers their motivations and emotions.

Once you know that your feedback fulfils the above requirements, frame your conversation using the following tips:

  • No one likes to be criticised publicly, so be sure you speak privately with the other person.  
  • Why not throw in a compliment or two to show that you also see the positive things they do. It will help lighten the mood and increase acceptance of your message. But it is important to keep the issue at the forefront of the conversation and not sugar-coat it.
  • Focus on the issue at hand and do not irrelevantly attack the other person’s character and personal values.  
  • Show that you mean well and that you will be there to support them whenever they need you. 
  • Be encouraging; be nice. Watch your words, especially when you don’t get to share your feedback in person. Don’t let your good intentions get lost in the translation of curt emails and blunt text messages.

Whether you are delivering a tough criticism or on the receiving end of one, remember the Turkish proverb: “Kind words will unlock an iron door.”